Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1977 by Gerry Downes. Originally published in Warped Space #23, Lori Chapek-Carleton, editor. Rated PG.
Two Tickets, Please
The first thing he was aware of was a pounding, slow and rhythmic, somewhere near the center of his -- body? Yes, he had a body. Flesh, real. And flowing back now was precious warmth. His blood began to circulate; he lay still a moment more, savoring the pulsing heat spreading through his veins. It was perhaps the only pleasure he would find, could ever find.
And now idea thoughts were coming back. They always lagged a fraction behind his physical functions. And with thought came identity. I have a name. Name ... Jim. Kirk. I am James T. Kirk. I am.
And with identity came realization. His reflexes still worked. He rolled over slowly and got unsteadily to his feet. He was always so stiff upon revival. Cold sleep was unnatural. A frozen ice-prison for the body. And the mind.
He began to flex his muscles as the chilled numbness departed. It took a little longer every time.
How many times had it been? Two? Two hundred? Two hundred times two hundred? He no longer knew. Or cared. All that had left him, been forced out of him, very long ago.
But it had to be more than two. This sense of ... ancientness ... was far too strong for it to have been a mere two times. Probably closer to two hundred. At least.
It must be, because he could remember -- the cold was still cloying in his mind -- sometimes he thought he would never finish thawing.
But he would. They would see to that. It wouldn't do to spoil the entertainment. Amusement park.
Whose? Surely not his. He was the actor, not the audience. The parts were very clear, precisely defined.
Had he ever had a different role, another part? Sometimes he thought he must have had, perhaps a long time ago, in some alternate universe, some previous incarnation ... no matter. It would come back to him. When he was warmer. It always did.
He realized suddenly he had been standing with his eyes closed. Feeling slightly foolish, at least he could still feel, a little -- holding on to this first emotion, it confirmed that he was actually alive again -- he opened his eyes.
And he knew exactly where he was. In that split moment when he knew but just before he saw, there was always that slender thread of hope. Opening his eyes snapped it every time. It was too delicate a thing to remain.
He was in the maze. A twisting, twisted tangle of coiled and lit translucent tubes, wrapping all around themselves, descending and ascending, branching and rebranching, and every so often, at intervals of carefully random choice, some danger, some menace, some THING to be attacked and destroyed. Amusement park.
Oh, he had tried. In the beginning he had fought back -- by refusing to fight, he would stand there, weaponless, and allow himself to die. However horribly.
But they would not permit that. And he had learned. To pick up the weapons. And to use them.
There was a staggering variety of weapons. Perhaps that had been planned too. So that he would not become bored. With this eternal, damnable ritual. Acted in this tubular coliseum. The feast for the lions.
He could have been materialized and revived anywhere in the maze. The walls were always very much the same. Everywhere. He had tried using the weapons to make marks on the walls. To chart his course.
But it had heen so many times, what kind of marks had he used on which occasions? There was a diamond shape burnt on the floor. A diamond.... Must have been from the fanged feathered serpent ... no, no wait, that had been a triangle ... he had wanted to commenorate the pattern on the snakeskin -- it had been a pretty thing but they had pulled him back to sleep again too soon.
He could never have kept the trophy anyway. But it would have been a comfort to have something. So he wouldn't be alone. Alone. And knowing they were watching. He had not wanted to kill the snake.
Or the dragon. Or that screeching flock of sandbats. Or the nameless other things that crawled or flew or ran or sludged across his path. Man is a predatory species, did you know that?
But this cave had no ending. And this caveman, no evolution. There could never be any progress here -- just repetition.
His head was clearer now. Time to move out. Yes, there was a weapon. There was always a weapon. Of some kind. Some type. But always the same function. Don't they ever get tired of this? Perhaps the audience changes every time and it's always new to them. Opening night. Of a long-running play.
He picked up the weapon, not noticing its style or design. Later, when the time came, he would learn to use it then. That was his own little game. He played to keep from going crazy. When danger presented itself, could he familiarize himself with the gun/knife/blaster/skrif in time? He was getting quite good at it. An adaptable species, too.
He started off down (up?) along the tunnel at a slow distance-eating trot. There will be miles to go before I sleep. He put the thought of sleep out of his mind. It was too cold.
There was a familiar growling ache in his vital organs -- he recognized the tell-tale signs of hunger. Sometimes he could eat what he killed. Sometimes. More often not. It didn't seem to make much difference to his body. He was always hungry. And eternally tired. And only occasionally warm. Occasions like this one, when he was in the park. Amusement park. .
Memory came back to him as he traveled along. The curse of his mind was that he could think of other things and still remain alert. If only he was not alert, perhaps one time he could be killed. But that had never been allowed to happen.
With memory, there was sorrow. He knew again the names of friends, and then their lovely human voices -- he would have sold his soul to hear sounds like that again. His own voice was a harsh hoarse croak; he had long ago ceased to use it.
Had the ship got away in time? Or had it been destroyed? He hoped so. Either one. Just so his crew was not also trapped in this. He had to hold that thought -- it was really this that kept his sanity. Or some semblance of it. And he had never seen any of the crew. And they had promised he was the only one. So he believed it. He had to.
His movements became slower now as some sixth sense started tension tightening in his body. He was coming closer, nearer what awaited him. This time.
He licked his lips and crouched low, listening. He had done this so often he was expert now. Whoever bought a ticket got their credit's worth. Do they actually take credit for this?
Yes, there was a sound up ahead. Very faint, a sort of scraping, some foot or paw or tentacle sliding through along inside the tunnel. With him. Soon. Relieving his loneliness just long enough for him to kill it.
Poor doomed beast. Good luck. I really mean it. One of these times you're bound to get lucky. You have to. The odds are astronomical...
The noise was coming closer now; carefully, with all the caution he could summon he rounded the next angle corner and saw -- Spock! It couldn't be, but it was. It was SPOCK.
He was a sight at once both beautiful and terrible. Beautiful because Jim had not seen anyone he recognized in what must be 40 lifetimes; terrible because the Vulcan's once expressionless face was naked now with anguish and despair.
His eyes were like two coals that had long ago burned out, leaving blackened torment in their stead and he was thin ... so thin the bones showed clearly, knife-like, against skin which was darkened here and there with mottled green, bruised and bloody vestiges of pain.
By this time it was almost a reflex to raise the weapon -- a laserlance, that's what it was this time. Jim recognized it without really noticing. He knew his hand was rising. This gun was a particularly disgusting sort of weapon; he had used it and seen its effect countless times: he needed no further familiarization.
In some ways it was similar to a phaser -- a blazing shaft of heat and light that vaporized its target. Utterly. But with a difference. This lance of energy was slow -- slower, much slower -- the result was tto prolong agony for the target. A very ugly death. Amusement park.
But beauty is the other side of ugliness, and even death like this is a release, and a relief. No terror of any hell could ever be more hellish than this maze.
His hand was almost horizontal now and for just a moment he thought he saw something, just a flicker, of something in the dull black eyes that seared back at him from a once-loved haunted face. Then it was gone. But not before he noticed the movement of Spock's hand; a weapon exactly like his was being leveled.
Hurry, oh please hurry -- if they realize -- they'll find a way to stop it. He had himself been rescued from death so many times, always at the last possible moment, when their cosmic joke had almost reached the punch line.
Arm the weapon, dial in the power, yes -- full. I always use mine on full. He took careful aim, holding his own body perfectly still. It was like looking at his own reflection in a distorting prism-mirror: that other image with its hopeless tortured face couldn't be himself.
He felt the first flutter of the transport beam preparing to pull him back to cold sleep safety. There was no more time!
Two fingers pressed on triggers, two shafts of light shot out, so much alike as to almost be identical, and each deadly beam found its mark. And neither of them screamed when the flame struck.
The sleeper-beam turned off -- there was nothing at these coordinates to lock on to -- only the empty corridor, and two thin columns of gray-white smoke.
Not a perfect solution, but interesting in its way -- we shall have to guard against that next time.
Either that or prevent contact between members of the same speaies. But it was mildly entertaining.